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December 21, 1984 - Image 88

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1984-12-21

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Friday, December 21, 1984 THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

Most Jews take the
proliferation of Nativity
scenes in the Detroit area
each Christmas in stride.
But the location of the
displays is another matter.

Staff Writer

The Southfield Civic Center's Chanukah dreidel and Christmas tree.

' T 3 it‘

In Dearborn, it has become the
focal point of an intense, almost per-
sonal dispute between Mayor John
O'Reilly and American Civil Liberties
Union (ACLU) Michigan Chapter
Executive Director Howard Simon. In
Berkley, it resides quietly on the front
lawn* of the city's municipal offices,
partially obscured from view by an
overwhelming plastic statue of Santa
Claus. In Birmingham, it has been
locked away for the season in a base-
ment storage room at City Hall be-
cause of a federal court ruling earlier
this year. In Madison Heights, it was
erected by the city fathers in spite of a
protest letter from the ACLU.
It, in each of the above cases, is a
Nativity scene — the simple depiction
of the birth of Jesus that has been a
common Christmas-time sight in the
Detroit area for decades. But this
year's crop of public property creches
has left the ACLU with the unenviable
task of waging the proverbial fight
against city hall while Jewish resi-
dents, communal leaders and rabbis,
though not quite as strident, would
nonetheless like to knock a little bit of
constitutional sense into area public
Both the ACLU and the Jewish
community are up in arms over what
they perceive as a serious crack in the
wall of church-state separation incor-
porated into the United States Con-
stitution some two centuries ago. And
while the sculpted figures of Joseph,
Mary and the newborn Jesus (one of
the few truly religious symbols left in

the American celebration of Christ-
mas) may form the symbolic center of
the controversy, it is the location of the
Nativity scenes rather than the dis-
plays themselves which are the point -
of contention.
The blurring of the line between
church and state bothers me a great
deal," Rabbi David Nelson, of Cong.
Beth Shalom said, referring to reli-
gious exhibits erected with public
funds and displayed on government
His objections were by no means a
slap at outward displays of Chris-
tianity, the rabbi said. "I am accus-
tomed to seeing them (Nativity scenes)
in various, non-government settings
and I care a great deal about my Chris-
tian neighbors. But we are supposed to
be a country committed to pluralism,
not the promotion of one, faith over
others." - -
Although he feels that the Jew
who is very positive in his belief is not
adversely affected" by the prolifera-
tion of creches, Rabbi James I. Gordon
of Young Israel of Oak-Woods agrees
that public property should be used
only for secular purposes that benefit
each segment of the community.
In Berkley, where a city-
sponsored creche is among the
Christmas decorations in front of the
city offices on Coolidge, Jewish resi-
dents expressed views similar to those
of Rabbis Nelson and 'Gordon. But
many Berkley Jews, aware that they

Continued on Page 25

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